Trump is vandalizing his presidency. And here comes Comey.
President Donald Trump takes his seat as he meets with Republican congressional leaders in the Roosevelt Room at the White House in Washington, D.C., on June 6, 2017. (Nicholas Kamm / AFP/Getty Images)
On Thursday, President Donald Trump faces a leadership test: The FBI director he rashly fired in May will give congressional testimony live on television, and the president will maintain a respectful silence … or fulminate on Twitter.
We’re not taking bets, but we’ve seen nothing in Trump’s behavior pattern to give us confidence he recognizes the harm and confusion his outbursts cause. Now in his fifth month on the job, Trump is on his way to earning a dubious award we just invented: the president most likely to break windows for no good reason.
Strange and demoralizing as it is, Trump is vandalizing his own presidency.
The crux of what the president has done is damage his own ability to fulfill his promises to voters. He is a Republican president with a Republican Congress. But instead of delivering tax reform, fixing Obamacare or creating factory jobs, Trump is caught up in a scandal hijacking his presidency. And it is happening because he lacks self-restraint.
It was just a month ago, with the FBI investigating whether Trump associates colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 election, that the president fired FBI Director James Comey. The White House tried peddling the excuse that Comey got the boot over his investigation of Hillary Clinton’s email server, but Trump quickly acknowledged he wanted Comey gone because of the "Russia thing." Firing Comey was a reckless act that appeared intended to waylay the investigation.
Remember Trump’s bizarre reaction? "James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!" the president tweeted.
When Comey testifies Thursday before the Senate intelligence committee, he’ll be asked about his dealings with Trump. Comey is expected to describe situations in which the president was more interested in the ongoing Russia investigation than he should have been. According to Comey’s written statement to the committee, released Wednesday afternoon, Trump in late March sought the FBI chief’s loyalty and wanted him to "lift the cloud" of the investigation from the Trump administration. Trump also asked Comey to lay off Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser who is a focus of the FBI investigation.
Trump’s actions invite serious legal questions about attempts to obstruct justice. We can’t answer those questions. What’s certain is that no good comes to the country from watching the spectacle of a president unable to manage his emotions or edit his words. Whatever the future direction of the Russia investigation, Trump made the situation worse by ignoring or failing to understand his obligation to respect the autonomy of federal law enforcement officials conducting an investigation. The sanctity of the rule of law is no small thing.
Trump is entitled to use social media as a megaphone. The trouble with his Twitter rants is they reinforce the perception that his real-life decision-making is irresponsible and untrustworthy. During Trump’s first week in office he unleashed a hastily written executive order on immigration that remains hung up in the courts because it’s arguably an unconstitutional ban on Muslims. The White House insisted that wasn’t the case. This week, Trump tweeted criticism of his own Justice Department lawyers for the legal imbroglio, and then added to their headaches with an absurd Twitter rant: "People, the lawyers and the courts can call it whatever they want, but I am calling it what we need and what it is, a TRAVEL BAN!"
Putting nuanced legal responsibilities on the shoulders of an impetuous real estate developer and expecting prudent outcomes always seemed like a stretch. Many voters were willing to take a chance on an untested leader because they were fed up with politics as usual. But Trump hasn’t grown into the job, and he’s shown no interest in trying. His erratic temperament causes one bad surprise after another.
What happens next? Tune in Thursday to watch Comey’s testimony. And stand by for the president’s reaction.
Join the discussion on Twitter @Trib_Ed_Board and on Facebook.
What to read next:
Become a subscriber today to support editorial writing like this. Start getting full access to our signature journalism for just 99 cents for the first four weeks.
Take a look at Donald Trump’s life from long before his 2016 presidential bid to his first several months in the Oval Office.